Torrey Fall Foliage Trip 2015 - Day 3

St. George Jeepers Trail Report - Sept. 30, 2015

Torrey Fall Foliage Trip - Day 3

The Wednesday Jeeping outing started off with a small glitch. One of the Jeeps awoke with a totally dead battery. After the Hayes made a flying trip from Torrey to Loa for a new battery and back, Leo Wingrove again had the grateful Jeepers back on the road. We again assembled at Rick Draney’s home in Loa before splitting off into the two groups. The Hayes group only had seven Jeeps on this day. Participants were; Joan and Phil Hayes, Ron and Ellie Motter, Paul Furr, Dan and Carol Gastineau, Steve and Claetra Howcroft, Leo and Dee Wingrove and Bud Sanders.

Our run once again began with a fill up at the Loa Sinclair and air down at the gas station. We then headed south on Posey Lake Road, #154. We turned onto #178 and passed the location of the old Aquarius Ranger Station. Below is some information about the cabin. 

The Aquarius Ranger Station is located about 15 miles south of Loa. It sits on the west side of Boulder Mountain, which makes up half of the expansive Aquarius Plateau. Boulder Mountain rises to an elevation of 11,317 feet. Capitol Reef National Park lies on its eastern edge. The station was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1937 and was used by generations of Forest Service employees working in the surrounding back country.

The ranger station is situated at the edge of a meadow lined with aspens and mixed conifers, at an elevation of 8,700 feet. Grasses, sagebrush and summer wildflowers fill the meadow.

The cabin is equipped with a table and chairs, a wood stove and propane appliances including a cook stove and oven, refrigerator and hot water heater. Some pots and pans, dishes and utensils are provided, but guests are encouraged to bring their own.

A vault toilet is located adjacent to the cabin, as is a campfire circle and several picnic tables. Potable water is available inside the cabin and at a hydrant outside. Solar lighting is available inside the cabin. Reservations for the Aquarius Guard Station must be made at least 2 days prior to arrival and no more than 180 days in advance. Reservations are made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or online at www.recreation.gov.

Proceeding on, we traveled through the scenic Dark Valley on NF #285.

Quaking aspen, the state tree of Utah 

I have no information on the old cabin, but would guess that it was either a Forest Service cabin or more likely a rancher’s line cabin. If only it could talk, I’m sure it would have stories to tell. 

Below is a group shot of some of the Jeepers. Left to right, Ron Motter, Leo Wingrove, Ellie Motter, Joan Hayes, Phil Hayes, Bob Wilding and Paul Furr. Our stop was at Dark Valley “Lake.”

Best I can determine the satellite shot below is Valley Lake (Puddle?) It may not be much to look at as a body of water, but it certainly lies in some scenic countryside.

Our fall foliage adventure is timed primarily to see the aspens in color. Below is a map that shows the distribution of aspen in North America. It is the most widely spread tree species in North America. We are fortunate to live in an area that is still within the southern range of the species. 

Take short trip to any of the mountainous areas of western United States and you cannot help but notice the sometimes vast expanses of dead conifer trees. This is probably either caused by wildfires or more likely the pine bark beetle. In the above photo it is apparent how much of this forest is dead due to the various species of bark beetle, here probably the mountain pine, spruce or piñon ips beetle species. Some forest scientists are arguing that in the long run the beetles may be doing the forest a favor. They argue that the beetles only kill the weaker trees and the stronger more resistant individuals are able to survive the attack. They hypothesize that in our warming climate these may be the trees with the traits that will allow them to survive as a species. That might explain how some of the trees in the above photo survived. It might also mean that this forest was attacked by a species of beetle that did not prefer the trees that survived. Regardless, it could be a good thing for aspens.

 

We have learned that, if at all possible, it is a good idea to have a guard animal along on these adventures out into the wilderness. Below, our guard dog, Foxy, is circling the area to clear it of predators. Throughout the whole trip we didn’t see one bear, mountain lion, coyote, wolf or other carnivorous hazards. He was obviously doing an excellent job. For any of you sheep ranchers, he might be for hire. 

Another photo of one of Joan’s golden dollar decorated all organic Christmas trees

Some more attractive foliage along the way

One of the highlights of today’s trip was a visit to the Memorial of Posey Lake Road. On May 21, 2013, there was an airborne craft crash off the side of this road. No humans were severely injured, but Old Yeller terminally and permanently gave up the ghost. Please see the solemn photos below.

Old Yeller

It was from this point that pilot Paul Furr, pictured below, launched and “landed” Old Yeller into the aspen tree in the background. Paul survived the crash landing much better than the tree and Old Yeller did. Since it was never concluded whether the Federal Aviation Administration or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration should investigate the crash, neither did. Witnessed did conclude that a major contributing factor was poor engineering, that is, the road was put in the wrong place. Those on scene reported Old Yeller’s last CB transmission was, “I’m dead!” Our thanks to Chuck Jenkins and Leo Wingrove for the somber memorial plaque.

Paying tribute to Old Yeller at the memorial are: Phil Hayes, Joan Hayes, Paul Furr, Leo , Bud Sanders, Ellie Motter, Ron Motter, Moira Wilding and Bob Wilding. Photographer, Dee Wingrove 

With heavy hearts we continued on to Posey Lake for lunch and to explore more fabulous fall foliage and panoramas. 

Posey Lake 

“Posey Lake Campground is located next to its beautiful namesake lake high on the Colorado Plateau at an elevation of 8,800 feet. Visitors enjoy canoeing, fishing and exploring local trails.

The campground is situated on a hillside above Posey Lake. A scenic forest of towering ponderosa pines covers the area. Clusters of aspens dot the landscape and summer wildflowers are abundant.

Posey Lake offers rainbow and brook trout fishing, canoeing, kayaking and non-motorized boating. Two hiking trails begin at the campground. The Posey Overlook Trail is a mile long and leads to a beautiful overlook. The Posey Spur Trail connects the campground to the Great Western Trail, which provides excellent hiking and mountain biking.

The campground contains 21 single-family sites and one group site for up to 35 people. Drinking water is provided from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Facilities at this campground include accessible vault toilets, a fish cleaning station and two fishing docks. Roads and parking spurs are gravel.

Posey Lake offers a cool escape from the surrounding desert landscape and is often used as a base to explore the surrounding region. The Escalante area of southern Utah offers breathtaking scenery nearly everywhere you look.

Sightseeing along Forest Road 153 (Hell's Backbone) and Utah Highway 12, a National All American Highway, is very popular. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Anasazi State Park, and the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park are all located in the area.”

After lunch at Posey Lake we traveled toward Hell’s Backbone, #153 and the Death Hollow Wilderness. Along the way we crossed a scenic little brook, somewhat of a pleasant oddity fro so much of southern Utah.

Death Hollow Wilderness

These scenes are from near the bridge on Hell’s Backbone. The area is accessible by car.

Death Hollow Wilderness is a 25,751 acres wilderness area located in south-central Utah, United States, on the Dixie National Forest. Vertical gray-orange walls of Navajo sandstone stand above two canyon tributaries of the Escalante River in Box-Death Hollow.

The name Death Hollow gives reference to a number of livestock that plunged to their death trying to cross the steep canyon.

Running north-south through a steeply dipping monocline, Pine Creek forms the box canyon (a canyon accessible only at the lower end) known appropriately as "The Box." Death Hollow Creek, east of The Box, has carved its way through a gently dipping monocline. Raging waters often flood these canyon narrows after a rain.

Pinyon and juniper cover many of the plateaus above the canyons. Brown and rainbow trout are plentiful in Pine Creek and in portions of Sand Creek. Along the creek banks, you may see mule deer, an occasional cougar, or even elk in winter. Three bird species listed by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources as "sensitive" can be found in the wilderness - Lewis's woodpecker, the western bluebird, and the mountain bluebird.

The Box-Death Hollow Wilderness briefly became the center of controversy during debate over the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984 due to a company that was interested in drilling exploration wells for carbon dioxide. The ridge-top well sites and routes leading to them were cherry-stemmed out of the north side of the legislated boundary, but the project never went into production.”

From the awe-inspiring scenery along the Hell’s Backbone road we drove on toward McGath Lake. Along the way there was more fine fall scenery.

The road into McGath Lake (# 494) was the most technically challenging we had encountered on the trip. It was quite steep with sharp, loose, igneous rock. Slow and easy did it and we all made it with no problems. When we reached the lake we were treated to an idyllic visual treat. 

From Boulder to McGath Lake, travel south on SR 12 for 4.7 miles to reach Hells Backbone Rd/Salt Gulch Rd. The Hells Backbone Rd/Salt Gulch Rd is also known as FR 153. Turn right and travel north on FR 153 (Hells Backbone Rd/Salt Gulch Rd) for approximately 9.3 miles. Turn right onto FR 566 and travel for 2.6 miles to reach FR 494. Turn left onto FR 494. From the junction of FR 566/FR 494 an ATV or 4WD is needed. Continue on and travel northwest on FR 494 for approximately 3.6 miles to reach the lake.

When we arrived at the lake there was a couple camping there who had recently moved to the area. They were excited to see us all coming and may join us on our future Tuesday outings. 

Back on the road after leaving McGath Lake 

The question came up about why the aspen rings formed. The theory is that the stand originally formed in what is now the center of the ring, perhaps from a rare single stem seedling. Aspen trees (the individual stems) are not very long lived. If you look closely you can see dead stems in the centers of the rings. However, aspens do reproduce vigorously from root sprouts, sometimes called suckers. Over time the stand expanded through the roots and the older stems in the middle died of old age. Eventually, the centers resprouted with young stems that are now younger and smaller than the outer ring. Quaking aspens are unusual in that the bark can carry on photosynthesis, a function usually only carried on by leaves. This allows them to continue making sugar through the winter and are consequently very important as winter food for beavers, elk, deer and in their range, ruffed grouse, who eat the leaf buds as a major food source. 

To finish out this most enjoyable day the sun broke through the clouds and we were treated to a nice sunset vista of the Henry Mountains and the 125 acre Lower Bowns Reservoir. 

Submitted by Bud Sanders